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How Does the Minnesota Supreme Court Work?

The Minnesota Supreme Court is the highest appellate court and the state’s court of last resort. It has appellate jurisdiction over cases involving:

  • Worker’s compensation appeals
  • Minnesota tax court
  • Appeals of murder cases in the first degree
  • Petitions filed by the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board
  • Certain election-related disputes.
  • Summary proceedings originating under the election code
  • Prosecutorial appeals regarding search and seizure questions in unresolved criminal proceedings
  • Originating actions from writs of prohibition, habeas corpus, and mandamus
  • Legislative election disputes

The Minnesota Supreme Court may grant or deny certiorari petitions. Certiorari petitions are appeals to the court to give a discretionary review of a case. In such instances, three of the Supreme Court’s seven justices are required to vote in favor. However, note that the Supreme Court rarely grants reviews of such cases because reviews could be detrimental to the parties involved. Ultimately, the court only grants a small percentage of certiorari petitions.

Decisions and orders of the Minnesota Supreme Court are binding on all other courts in the state. Most cases heard by the Supreme Court are to subsequent to reviews by the Court of Appeals of final decisions made by a lower court. By law, some cases bypass the Court of Appeals and go directly to the Supreme Court. Some of these include appeals in first-degree murder cases, tax court cases, and worker’s compensation matters. 

The Supreme Court plays an administrative role over the regulation and disciplinary proceedings of Minnesota attorneys. This role also extends to the court’s rulemaking process and the budgeting process of the state’s Judicial Branch. The Minnesota Supreme Court oversees the State Court Administrator, Board of Continuing Legal Education, Board of Law Examiners, Commission on Judicial Discipline, and investigations of unethical or incompetent legal practices.

The Minnesota Supreme Court does not conduct trials, evidentiary, or sentencing hearings. However, the court hears oral arguments in the majority of the cases decided by its judges. Oral arguments are very formal and involve discussions of statutes and past appellate court rulings. These arguments rarely discuss the pieces of evidence in a case. 

Usually, the argument is a presentation by an attorney to a panel of seven Justices. It summarizes the merits of the party’s position, hoping to provide a good chance of obtaining a favorable ruling from the panel. An oral argument in the Minnesota state Supreme Court lasts for 35 minutes for the appellate lawyer and 25 minutes for the respondent’s lawyer. However, arguments may last longer in some cases. After each oral argument, Justices immediately converge in a conference to discuss their opinions on the case. After the conference, one of the Justices is randomly assigned to draft the court’s opinion, as discussed in the conference. The draft is then circulated among all seven Justices for review and possible revision. 

Generally, the time frame for handing down court decisions differs. However, written rulings are usually issued between three and five months after the conclusion of oral arguments. Note that some cases may be decided using the information on attorney case briefs, an oral hearing.

Interested persons may access the Minnesota Supreme Court’s previous oral arguments via the judicial website’s oral arguments page. Case announcements are accessible on the Minnesota news and announcement section on the Judicial Branch website. 

The Supreme Court grants a review of approximately 12% of the 600 to 700 petitions it receives each year. Generally, between 75 and 100 opinions are written by the Minnesota Supreme Court every year. 

Usually, arguments are scheduled for three to four days each month; September through June. During that period, roughly four to eight cases are heard in each court session. All seven Justices of the court must decide each case unless one of them recuses. A Justice may recuse or be disqualified if: 

  • The offense charged is thought to have been committed against the Justice;
  • The Justice is related or associated with the defendant or attorney;
  • The Justice has been counsel in the case;
  • The Justice is in any way prejudiced concerning the case, counsel, or parties.

Under the law, a Justice who is aware of any disqualifying circumstances must personally recuse from participating in the matter. Any of the parties involved in a case may also file a motion to disqualify a Justice. Such motions must be supported by two affidavits.  

Supreme Court Justices also participate in committees that address specific matters concerning the court system or the Minnesota Judicial Branch administration. These committees include the Alternative Dispute resolution (ADR) board, Minnesota IOLTA program, Legal Services Advisory Committee (LSAC), Implementation Committee for Proposed Legal Paraprofessional Pilot Project. Supreme Court Justices also serve as ex-officio chairs of judicial nominating commissions and speak to legal and civil groups in the state.

There are seven Supreme Court Justices in Minnesota. To be qualified for the position, an individual must be voted in a nonpartisan election and licensed to practice law in the state for a minimum of five years. The Supreme Court handles a variety of cases; hence, Justices are required to move daily from one area of law to another. Owing to the Supreme Court’s demands, Justices are also required to make shared decisions and function effectively within the court’s limitations. 

Each Justice serves for six years. If a Justice dies, retires, or resigns during an elected term, the governor may appoint someone to the vacant position. The mandatory retirement age is 70 years old. 

To find Minnesota Supreme Court cases, requestors may search the MPA remote tool on the Judicial Branch website. The MPA remote tool is the computerized case management system used by Minnesota courts to track and manage cases.  Minnesota Supreme Court proceedings are open to the general public. Visit the court location at:

123 Minnesota Judicial Center

25 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard

St Paul, MN 5515

Phone: (651) 297–7650

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